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Bethel History

About Bethel

In 1842, Bethel University was founded in McLemoresville, Tennessee, as Bethel Seminary operating under the fostering care of West Tennessee Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

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Our History

Bethel College was granted a charter by the State of Tennessee in 1847 and operated as Bethel College until 2009 when the trustees voted to change its name to Bethel University.

Bethel's first president was Rev. Reuben Burrow, who served for 20 years. During his presidency, Rev. Burrow also served as a fundraiser, a member of the Board of Visitors, head of the Theology Department, and a teacher.

Bethel successfully weathered the economic hardship brought on by the Civil War and in 1865 admitted women for the first time.

In 1872, Bethel President W.W. Hendrix led the initiative to move Bethel from McLemoresville to its current location in McKenzie, where the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway intersected the Louisville & Nashville Railway.

During the 20th century, Bethel College made a name for itself as an outstanding church-affiliated school producing many graduates headed for the clergy, for the classroom as educators, and many other career paths.

In more recent years, the university has been an innovator, pioneering online education with Bethel's Success Adult Degree program. Bethel was also the first college in Tennessee to offer a laptop initiative where each full-time student would be provided with a laptop computer.

Since then, Bethel has continued to innovate. The Renaissance Performing Arts Experience was developed to offer performing arts students scholarships, much like the scholarships awarded to student-athletes. This opportunity broadened the base of prospective students as did the introduction of a number of non-traditional athletics programs, including inline roller hockey, bowling, and bass fishing.

Master’s degree programs including a Master of Arts in education, a Master of Science in physician assistant studies, a Master of Business Administration, and a Master of Arts in conflict resolution have been added through the years as options in learning platforms for the master’s degree. Students can choose to learn face-to-face in the classroom, online, or via both platforms.

In 2009, the Bethel Board of Trustees voted unanimously to change Bethel College’s name to Bethel University to best reflect the momentum the school was experiencing. Three colleges currently operate under the Bethel University umbrella: The College of Arts and Sciences, The College of Professional Studies, and The College of Health Sciences.

Our momentum has no signs of stopping. Last year, the football Wildcats finished the season with a 10-1 record. Our bass fishing team won a national championship. Enrollment continues to rise both in McKenzie and in our online program. Our graduates serve as leaders in government, businesses, and communities across the country.

For our students and Bethel University, the best is yet to come.